What to eat, what to avoid
Feeling sniffle-y? Food and supplement superstars can offer a much-needed immune boost over the winter months, ensuring you don't catch whatever-it-is from the person coughing next to you in the checkout line. Find out how to turbo-charge your diet with cold and flu flighting foods, and what foods to avoid when feeling under the weather.
While eating right is important all year round, a healthy diet full of nutrient-rich wholefoods such as fresh fruits and vegetables is especially important when fending off symptoms of a cold or the flu. The following are some of the best and worst foods to eat when feeling under the weather.
Used for centuries to soothe symptoms associated with a cold and the flu, chicken soup’s healthy reputation may be attributed to its many nutrient- and antioxidant-dense ingredients: polyphenol-packed onions, beta carotene-rich carrots, virus-fighting garlic and, of course, chicken.
Chicken is an excellent source of carnosine, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may stave off viral infections such as the flu by stopping it from replicating and spreading inside cells. The comforting warm broth of this soup may also help loosen mucus to ease congestion and alleviate a sore throat.
Thought to ward off everything from vampires to the plague, garlic has a long history of protecting us against all that ails. Garlic’s disease-fighting abilities appear to come from the sulphur compounds responsible for its pungent smell.
In addition to demonstrating powerful antioxidant abilities, garlic is thought to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties that preliminary research suggests may be useful in battling the common cold.
Citrus fruits are excellent sources of vitamin C; while evidence of vitamin C’s ability to combat the cold is inconclusive, as a potent antioxidant it plays an essential role in maintaining the immune system.
Another powerful antioxidant found in citrus fruits is the flavonoid quercetin. Like carnosine in chicken soup, preliminary studies suggest quercetin may stop the rhinovirus—the most common cause of the common cold—in its tracks by preventing it from replicating and spreading.
Although small in size, cranberries have abundant phytochemicals that may give the immune system a big boost. In one preliminary study, researchers found cranberry juice consumed daily significantly increased cells responsible for defending the body against viral invaders. Cranberry juice drinkers reported fewer cold and flu symptoms than those who did not drink the juice.
Traditionally used to calm nerves and relieve digestive upset, British researchers have found chamomile tea may increase levels of polyphenols associated with increased antibacterial activity in the body. This increased antibacterial activity may aid the immune system in warding off infections associated with the common cold.
If a cold has left you with a nagging cough, a dose of dark chocolate may help. Dark chocolate is especially rich in the phytochemical theobromine. UK researchers have found theobromine may be more effective than codeine in relieving a persistent cough. Theobromine is thought to work by blocking the action of the nerves that trigger the cough reflex.
While eating fast or highly processed food is never recommended, indulging in a fatty burger and fries when sick may hamper the immune system’s ability to do its job.
In one review, American researchers from the National Institutes of Health found foods high in refined sugar, salt and certain fats may wreak havoc on the body by increasing inflammation and decreasing the body’s defences against infections. Indeed, New Zealand researcher Philippa Ellwood of the University of Auckland recently reported the results of a major health survey showing that young people who consumed junk food were at greatly increased risk of asthma, eczema and rhinitis, while all age groups benefitted from eating fruit to protect against these disorders.
When consumed in excess, refined sugar found in confectionery, pastries, soft drinks and other sweet treats may reduce disease-fighting white blood cells and slow the immune system’s response to invading bacteria and viruses.
A hot toddy or two before bed may provide momentary relief, but could leave you feeling worse in the morning. Alcohol’s diuretic properties can cause dehydration in the body. As the body needs adequate fluids to break down mucus, dehydration may make cold symptoms such as congestion worse.
Too much alcohol has also been shown to weaken the immune system against invading viruses.
Like alcohol, coffee is thought to have diuretic properties that can cause dehydration. Excess caffeine consumption is also thought to promote the release of stress hormones. High levels of stress hormones can increase inflammation, which can make cold and flu symptoms seem more severe.
Packed full of protein, calcium, vitamin D and in some cases probiotics, dairy products may seem like a healthy choice. Unfortunately, for some individuals, dairy may make cold and flu symptoms seem even worse.
While evidence doesn’t support the notion that dairy products increase mucus production, dairy products may still make the mucus already present in the throat feel thicker.
In addition to a healthy diet, plenty of fluids and rest, nutritional and herbal supplements may aid the body in combating invading viruses and help speed up recovery.
Thought to have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, elderberry may help ease congestion by reducing swelling in mucous membranes.
Although research is still evolving on its many benefits, when taken at the first signs of a cold, echinacea may help reduce symptoms.
When taken regularly throughout the cold and flu season, research suggests American ginseng may not only help prevent the cold and flu, but also make symptoms milder in those who do get sick.
Thought to work by reducing the body’s inflammatory response to an invading virus, probiotic supplements may help lessen the duration of cold symptoms.
Although evidence is preliminary, antioxidant-rich spirulina may provide protection against the flu by stopping the flu viruses from replicating.
When taken within a day of symptoms starting, zinc may help speed up recovery from a cold as well as lessen the severity of symptoms.